Teachers Not 'Unalterably Opposed' To Professional Reform, Study Finds

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Despite common perceptions to the contrary, teachers and their local unions are not unalterably opposed to the reform of school staffing practices, even when reforms require additional training of them or compromise their seniority rights and freedom to transfer, concludes a recent study by researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

But such efforts are most successful, the researchers found, if they are developed from the bottom up, not imposed by state legislatures or state educational leaders.

Furthermore, the study found, teachers' perceptions of such staff-differentiation concepts as merit pay are colored by a multitude of factors, including the history of labor-management relations in their district.

The study was conducted by Susan Moore Johnson, Niall C.W. Nelson, and Jacqueline Potter at Harvard under a grant from the National Institute of Education.

According to the researchers, the study was intended to examine the role of local teachers' unions in efforts to reform staffing policies by various methods, including merit pay, career ladders, and master-teacher plans.

The researchers analyzed 155 union contracts from a stratified random sample of school districts. In addition, they conducted extensive interviews with 187 teachers, administrators, and union leaders in five school districts between June 1984 and February 1985. Efforts to reform staffing procedures were under way in four of the five districts when the study was conducted.

Not Opposed to Change

"[U]nions and their teachers are not unalterably opposed to change,'' the researchers concluded. "In fact, where organized teachers are included as professionals in the reform process, they can be constructive change agents."

"However," they continued, "efto reform staffing practices require far more than union acquiescence or new contract language."

The researchers said they found no standard or uniform union responses to reform efforts. Response, according to the study, "depends upon the interaction of a variety of factors surrounding the reform--the origin of the proposal, the labor-management relationship preceding it, the process by which proposals are considered, and the extent to which teachers and administrators regard the proposed reforms as appropriate and consistent with the needs of their schools."

Main Factors

Among the most important factors, the researchers said, was the history of union-management cooperation in the school district.

"To the extent that teachers perceived their local labor relationship to be one of respect and trust, they approached the reforms with open minds and collegial expectations," the study said. "To the extent they regarded it as characterized by distrust and condescension, they approached the reforms cautiously, often cynically."

The researchers also found that proposals with local origins and support fared better than reforms imposed by outside actors. Where teachers were given an active role in designing and carrying out the reform proposal, they said, the teachers became more accepting of the endeavor.

In addition, teachers tended to support reform plans that they saw as providing more instructional time, more stability for their schools, and more instructional autonomy for teachers. They opposed plans that appeared to be punitive or intended to promote competition among staff members and schools.

But while teachers are open to reform ideas, the researchers concluded, the study "also suggests that teachers will resist, both actively and passively, changes that would make their schools less stable, less cohesive, and less supportive of good teaching."

Vol. 05, Issue 14

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